Authors: Jennifer Fallon
The ride through Lebec to the prison had taken the better part of an hour, during which Arkady got very little out of either Timms or Flanelâthe two men Declan Hawkes had sent to escort herâabout Kyle Lakesh. All they would tell her was that she would see for herself what he was like when she met him, so Arkady turned her attention to the scenery rolling past the rain-splattered windows of the carriage and let her mind wander.
It was early spring and the countryside was in full bloom, the lush fields bursting with new life, the trees glistening with traces of last night's thunderstorm that had washed the world clean. On her left, the silver waters of the Lower Oran glittered in the broken beams of sunlight that managed to pierce the clouds, white sails dotting its mirror-like surface, set against the hazy blue outline of the Caterpillar Ranges in Caelum on the distant shore of the lake. The most impressive of the Great Lakes, the Lower Oran boasted the largest freshwater body on the entire Glaeban continent, not to mention the highest concentration of population.
Twelve of the nation's most powerful city-states fronted the Lower Oran, although few were as rich or powerful as Lebec. Stellan's ancestors had expanded their territory well into the mountainous regions to the east of the Great Lakes and claimed the vast mineral and timber wealth that came with it. As they passed through the crossroads leading to Clyden's Inn and the mines beyond, Arkady wondered how many people toiled in the mountains to produce the wealth she enjoyed. It made her feel a little guilty.
Arkady had seen the mines of Glaeba. Her father used to take her there sometimes, when she was a small child, as he tended to the miners who might never have access to a physician in the normal course of events. The tall, forested slopes held little mystery for Arkady.
It was the existence of the Waste which kept Arkady and her fellow historians awake at night. There seemed no logical reason for such places to exist. There were many of them. She'd received a number of letters from a colleague in Torlenia who was investigating the same phenomenon in his country where vast tracts of land had been rendered uninhabitable during the Cataclysm. Nobody knew what had caused the Cataclysm or why the effects had been both widespread and yet so localised. Millions of people had diedâlater generations had found the mass graves to prove itâand yet even the skeletons they'd dug up gave no hint of how they'd perished. All the historians knew was that more than a thousand years ago a great many people had died, and that there had been enough survivors left to bury them. Other than that, their fate and what had devastated so much of every continent on Amyrantha remained a complete mystery.
Of course, it was such mysteries that gave the Tilly Pontings of this world all the ammunition they needed, Arkady lamented. It was people like her who fed the rumours and the appetites of fools who'd settle for any explanation that involved the supernatural.
Arkady, being a rational and logical person, considered such beliefs to be utter nonsense and it was part of the reason she was looking forward to meeting Kyle Lakesh. The more Arkady thought about it, the more she realised how dangerous this man was, and not simply because he was a cold-blooded murderer. If word got out that the hangman had failed and the survivor was claiming to be immortal, every crackpot in Glaebaâand beyondâwould be lining up to shout “I told you so.”
That wouldn't happen if Arkady Desean had anything to say about it.
The carriage finally rattled through the forbidding gates of Lebec Prison, forcing Arkady to concentrate on more immediate concerns. Flanelâor Timms, she couldn't tell them apartâhanded her down from the carriage where the prison Warden was waiting to greet her.
“Your grace!” he exclaimed, bowing excitedly. He obviously wasn't in the habit of entertaining such a noteworthy guest. “Lady Desean! You honour us beyond words!”
Arkady shook her head, wishingânot for the first timeâthat she'd married a man nobody had heard of. “You needn't bow to me, Warden, or address me so formally. I am here in an academic capacity. You may call me
The Warden seemed a little taken aback by her suggestion but nodded anxiously in agreement. “Of course, yourâ¦Doctor. As you wish. Pleaseâ¦come in, come inâ¦I have refreshments waiting for you in my officeâ¦”
“I'd really rather speak to the prisoner first, Warden. Can that be arranged?”
Again, he nodded anxiously, desperate to impress. “Of course. Timms! Flanel! Escort Lady Desean to the Row.”
Arkady raised a curious brow. “The
“Recidivists' Row,” the Warden explained. “It's where we confine the worst offenders. I'm sorryâ¦perhaps you'd rather have the prisoner brought to you in a place somewhat lessâ¦intimidating?”
“No, it's all right, Warden. I'd like to speak to the prisoner in a place where he feels comfortable. Are you expecting Master Hawkes this afternoon?”
“Any moment now, yourâ¦Doctor Desean.”
“Then I'll see you both when I'm done. Perhaps then I might avail myself of your generous offer of refreshments?”
“Whatever you desire, your grace.”
Arkady bit back a snarl at the man's fawning inability to address her by the title she'd earned, rather than the one she'd married, and followed Timms and Flanel up the weathered flagstone steps of the prison. Darkened to an even more ominous shade of grey by the recent rain, the walls loomed over her so oppressively she found it hard to breathe. It was as if the architects of this building had set out to rob all who entered here of any hope of redemption.
As they approached, another guard opened the heavily studded door for them, revealing a gaping maw from which Arkady imagined she could almost feel the misery emanating. She knew she was being foolish; she knew the darkness of Lebec Prison could not harm her, but she hesitated before crossing the threshold.
Her father had taken a step like this once, and never returned.
“Doctor Desean? Are you all right?” one of her escorts enquired.
“I'll be fine,” she assured him, and taking a deep breath Arkady followed the men inside.
Recidivists' Row was located on the fourth floor of Lebec Prison. To get there, Arkady had to climb four flights of cold, steep, narrow, winding stairs, pass through a cluttered guardroom reeking of stale cooked cabbages and then down another long hallway which bent at a right angle some fifty feet from the guardroom, opening up into a long narrow corridor with open-barred cells on either side. There were a dozen cells, six on each side, lit by narrow barred windows. Too small for a man to crawl through, the windows let in enough light to see the occupants of the cells, but not enough to remedy their pallor.
The prisoners stared at her, some with curiosity, and some with total apathy. They were uniformly wretched, but she hardened her heart to their plight. There might be other men incarcerated elsewhere in Lebec Prison who were less recalcitrant, but no man without a past filled with other people's misery finished up here, confined in Recidivists' Row.
“Are the prisoners allowed out at all?” she asked, as she walked slowly between the cells.
“Not this lot, Doctor Desean,” Flanel assured her.
“Not even for exercise?”
“What good would exercise do?” Timms asked, as if genuinely puzzled by Arkady's question.
She braced herself as they approached the last two cells. Both were occupied. On the left, the prisoner was a Crasii; a huge canine who looked as if he should be muzzled as well as confined. He seemed to be none the worse physically for his confinement. The beast watched her curiously but made no threatening gestures.
In the cell on the right, Arkady assumed, was the self-proclaimed Tide Lord, Kyle Lakesh.
The young man was dozing, she noted, as she stopped outside the bars flanked by her escort. Timms banged on the bars with his truncheon, jerking the prisoner awake. He sat up, staring at Arkady oddly, as if he was either shocked to see her, or confused by something. Timms banged the bars again. The prisoner frowned, rubbing his eyes, and then pushing the fugue of sleep aside, he rose to his feet. He was taller than Arkady was expecting, clean-shaven, with shaggy dark hair. But his eyes were remarkable, a clear piercing blue that shocked her with the intensity of his gaze.
“Well, well, wellâ¦,” the prisoner remarked, eyeing Arkady up and down with an insolent smile. “They sure don't make historians like they used to.”
Timms belted the iron bars with his truncheon again, making Arkady jump.
“You keep a civil tongue in your head, scumbag.”
“Or you'll what?” the prisoner taunted. “Kill me? Tried that already. Didn't work.”
“Because you're immortal?” Arkady suggested, wondering if the man was willing to repeat his allegation when confronted with genuine scepticism. She knew Declan didn't believe his wild claim any more than she did, but men like Timms and Flanel would be wondering if maybeâ¦just maybeâ¦this man was what he claimed to be.
didn't take much convincing, did you, precious?” Kyle Lakesh smiled at her, revealing a row of unnaturally perfect teeth. In a world where most adultsâparticularly in the lower classesâhad lost a few permanent teeth by the time they reached thirty, his were even, white, and showed no sign of wear or staining.
“I doubt there is anything you could say to convince me of your claim, Master Lakesh. And my name is Doctor Desean, not
“My name is Cayal, not Lakesh.”
“The Warden says your name is Kyle Lakesh.”
“The Warden is wrong.”
“What would you prefer to be called?”
“Your royal highness.”
Despite herself, Arkady smiled. “What's your second preference?”
“Call me Cayal.”
“And you're a Tide Lord, so you claim?”
Arkady nodded thoughtfully. “Very well, then. Prove it.”
“Prove it,” she ordered. “You claim to be an immortal, a sorcerer, a wielder of elemental magic. So wield something. Make the bars melt. Have the walls grow flowers. Give us a demonstration of your power, O Mighty One.”
“Ha!” the Crasii in the opposite cell chuckled. “She's got you there, suzerain.”
Arkady turned to study the big Crasii. She had no idea what he was incarcerated for, but he looked strong enough to part the bars with his bare hands. His fur was short, the rich brown colour favoured by the more discerning breeders. His ears were pointed and twitched with interest. His tail, however, remained still. He wasn't friendly, this beast, neither was he afraid. He was intelligent, too, she judged. He spoke like an educated human. This Crasii wasn't a stray. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to house-break and train him.
“What did you call him?” she asked the Crasii.
“He called me a suzerain,” Lakesh said. “It's an insult. The Crasii thought it up because they were too stupid to think of anything more creative.” He looked past Arkady and her escort and glared at the Crasii. “Go sit in the corner and lick your balls, gemang.”
Timms bashed the bars of Cayal's cubicle with his truncheon again for his crudeness as the Crasii lunged at the bars of his cell opposite, making Arkady take an involuntary step backwards. The step brought her dangerously close to Lakesh's reach, unnoticed by either Flanel or Timms, who were concentrating on the snarling Crasii.
“Get rid of the guards,” he whispered urgently. “Then I'll prove anything you want.”
Arkady almost admired his gall. She stepped away from his reach and smiled. “Oh yes,
going to happen. Anything else you'd like, while I'm at it? The keys to your cell, perhaps?”
Cayal smiled suddenly. “Are you offering?”
Arkady didn't bother to reply. Instead, she turned around to look at the Crasii again. He had backed off, but she suspected it was because he was trying to appear nonthreatening, not because Flanel or Timms had scared him away with their truncheons.
“What's your name?” Arkady had dealt with a great many Crasii, both the slaves who now served her and her husband and the poor, sick and desperate ones who had sought out her father's help when she was a child. They held little fear for her, which made her a rarity among her class, most of whom were quietly terrified of the beasts who served them so loyally.
“Warlock,” the Crasii answered after only a brief pause. “Out of Bella, by Segura.”
He knows his pedigree, which means he isn't a stray,
Arkady thought. “You're housetrained.”
“I served in Lord Ordry's household,” the Crasii confirmed. “As his steward.”
Arkady knew Lord Ordry. He was a harmless old man, scatterbrained certainly, but not known for brutalising his Crasii. Whatever the reason Warlock had wound up here, it wasn't because Ordry mistreated him.
“Why do you call this man a suzerain?”
“That's what he smells of.”
“That's the name your people give the Tide Lords in your legends, isn't it?”
“What makes you so sure they're legends?” Warlock asked.
“See!” Lakesh called out from across the corridor. “Even the fleabag agrees with me!”
“I'll shut him up, Doctor Desean,” Timms offered with an impatient sigh, raising his truncheon as he turned.
“If the hangman couldn't take me, what makes you think you and your little stick are going to fare any better, fool?” Lakesh challenged, nimbly skipping backwards out of reach of the truncheon.
This is ridiculous!
Arkady thought, wondering what she ever thought she might achieve here. There was no way to prove or disprove what this man claimed short of killing him again, and she certainly wasn't qualified to ascertain how sane he may or may not be.